The act of gambling involves wagering something of value, such as money or property, on an event that is unpredictable. Gambling may involve activities that require skill, such as sports or card games, but the overwhelming majority of gambling events are considered to be based on chance. Examples of a gambling activity include a lottery, casino game, or racetrack event. Lotteries are government-organized games in which people pay a fee to participate in a random drawing that determines winners. Most governments regulate lotteries to ensure that the prize is fairly distributed.
Although many people enjoy gambling for social or recreational reasons, some individuals experience negative consequences that interfere with their daily functioning. These effects may be triggered or made worse by underlying mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, or substance use problems. In addition, pathological gambling may co-occur with other problems such as unemployment, bankruptcy, homelessness, and legal issues.
In recent years, the understanding of the adverse consequences of excessive gambling has undergone a radical change. While for most of history, persons who suffered from negative impacts of their gambling were viewed as having gambling problems, today they are seen as having psychological problems that need to be addressed. This shift has been reflected in, or at least stimulated by, the evolution of the description of pathological gambling in successive editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM; American Psychiatric Association, 1980, 1987, and 1994).
Several studies have demonstrated that individuals with a disordered gambling pattern are more likely to have mood disorders. One such study found that about half of the sampled pathological gamblers who underwent treatment for their problem also had a lifetime mood disorder. Other research has demonstrated that depression is the most common underlying mood disorder in pathological gamblers and that depressive symptoms often precede gambling behavior.
While there are several different theories about how people become addicted to gambling, the consensus is that all of them involve some degree of impulsivity and behavioral disinhibition. There is also a substantial amount of evidence that gambling is related to sensation-and novelty-seeking, arousal, and negative emotions. It is thought that these factors are linked because they contribute to the initiation and progression of gambling behavior and, in turn, lead to negative outcomes.
Gambling addiction can be extremely hard to overcome. It can cause financial ruin and strain on relationships. However, there are effective treatments for this disorder. The first step is admitting that there is a problem. Then, find healthy ways to cope with unpleasant feelings and relieve boredom. Some helpful coping techniques are exercise, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, and meditation. It is also important to seek treatment for underlying mood disorders, which can make gambling more likely to occur and make it harder to stop. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, seek help as soon as possible.